Manitoba orders probe into companies hired to watch kids in care
The Manitoba government has ordered a review of the private companies that oversee children and youth under the care of child welfare authorities, while two people who know the system well are calling for an overhaul.
Vivian Ketchum, who worked for Complete Care between 2009 and 2011, said government officials have no idea how dangerous it is to place children and teens in hotel rooms with minimally trained support workers.
A number of companies are contracted out by the province to watch the children, such as Complete Care, which has a contract to supervise foster children and youth placed in hotel rooms as a temporary measure.
- Complete Care ex-worker speaks out on CFS youth placed in hotels
- Manitoba hires several companies to watch children in CFS care
- Teens in CFS care in Winnipeg hotels say they've seen prostitution, drugs
She quit because she was frustrated that teens were falling through the cracks. She also said the children would come and go as they pleased, and the workers had no power to stop them.
Last Friday, Irvin-Ross had told CBC News she wasn't familiar with some of the companies used by her department.
"There's hundreds and hundreds of contracts that we have, and I'm not familiar with all of them," she said.
A spokesperson for Irvin-Ross said the minister was too busy dealing with family services matters to be interviewed on Wednesday.
'It disgusts me'
Complete Care received more than $8.4 million last year.
In all, the province spent more than $13 million in the past year to hire companies that supervise children in care who are staying in hotels in group homes.
But Charlene Gladu, who has been a social worker in Manitoba for two decades, says the practice of placing children and teens in hotel rooms has to stop.
"You have to stop putting our kids in those hotels because you're sexually exploiting them. The system is sexually exploiting our children itself," she said.
Gladu said most children and youth are placed at two hotels in downtown Winnipeg that she believes are not safe.
"It disgusts me. You're taking kids from the home. You're putting them in hotels where there's drinking, there's drugging, there's prostitution," she said.
'Nothing really has changed'
The fact that the province is only now reviewing the practice of hotel placements concerns Sherryl Koop, who worked with at-risk children 15 years ago.
Koop was a chaplain at the Seven Oaks Youth Centre, which offered at-risk children a safe place to sleep, eat proper meals and access school and counselling.
When the government closed the centre in 1998, Koop said the children and youth in her care were warehoused in hotel rooms with university students who had no training.
"Nothing really has changed," Koop said.
"Here we are 10 years later and kids are still in hotels and we're still seeing poor care, and also that there's no really great, as far as I know, crisis stabilization unit in place."
Koop said a 2004 report warned the province that children would be at risk.
"My biggest fear is that not providing care will cause more and more and more children to not only fall through the cracks, but to end up being murdered," she said.
Situation 'waiting to explode'
Billie Schibler, who spent years working as Manitoba's children's advocate, says she believes an overhaul is needed of the child welfare system, including its use of hotel placements.
"Without a doubt in my mind, you know, it's a situation that is waiting to explode," she said. "There's all sorts of risk just in that situation alone."
Schibler, who is now chief executive officer of the Métis Child and Family Services Authority, said she would like to see more money invested in programs and supports designed to help reunite families and keep children in the homes and communities they know.
"If we took that money and we looked at providing whatever was necessary as supports or building capacity within another family member's home so that they can be the caregivers, that should be our first priority," she said.
Gladu said she wants to meet with Irvin-Ross. In the meantime, she is working on a program to help keep families together rather than apprehending children.